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Storage plans for ice boom still up in the air

When the ice boom ends its ice-blocking duties on the Niagara River next spring, it might not be headed back to dry land.

The New York Power Authority, which has pledged to give up the waterfront site on Buffalo's outer harbor that serves as the barrier's off-season home, is considering loading the 1.7-mile-long boom on a barge.

"I've been told they might put it on a barge until they can put it on land they control," said Rep. Brian Higgins, D-Buffalo, who was instrumental in making local waterfront development aid part of the authority's federal relicensing agreement.

Higgins said he was not given specifics on where the power agency might ferry the barrier.

"[Power Authority Chairman] Roger Kelley told me floating it off somewhere is an option, and he said they are also looking at an inland storage site on the outer harbor," the Buffalo Democrat said.

The congressman, who views the ice boom's longtime storage site -- a 13-acre parcel off Fuhrmann Boulevard near the U.S. Coast Guard Station -- as a prime redevelopment site, said he hoped the authority would have secured a permanent home for the boom by now.

"They've known they'd need to relocate the ice boom since late 2005 when the relicensing agreement was reached," Higgins said. "They did make progress on an alternative site on the Buffalo River, but ran into problems finalizing the deal. I've let Roger know I really want to see a final solution."

The Power Authority has been in negotiations on a Ganson Street property for several months, but the purchase has bogged down over the agency's need to conduct on-site environmental studies prior to its acquisition.

Under terms of the relicensing pact, the Power Authority agreed to turn over the outer harbor boom storage site to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. That pledge is part of a much larger development-assistance agreement that will bring $280 million to local waterfront projects.

That investment includes annual payments of $2.5 million to the Erie Canal Harbor Development Corp. over the next 50 years. The first of those checks was transferred to the harbor agency on Oct. 30, and follows $4 million in upfront payments.

The agreement also pledges $1 million per year to Empire State Development Corp. for Buffalo waterfront projects, as well as funds for Niagara Greenway development.

The ice boom, which is made up of 22 pontoons, each 500 feet long, will be strung across the Niagara River, above the Peace Bridge, in early December to prevent chunks of ice from damaging downstream hydropower water intakes.

Under International Joint Commission rules, the barrier is installed by Dec. 16, or when the Lake Erie water temperature dips to 39 degrees. It must be removed by April 1, unless the lake ice pack exceeds 250 square miles.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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